Friday, July 18, 2008

Gillnet Controversy Erupts

Look carefully and you can see a juvenile rooster ensnared in their net.

For many years now, inshore gillnetting has been a continuing issue in the East Cape area. It was, and is, having a detrimental impact to the inshore and beach fishery.

In April 2002, the principals and representatives of the East Cape Hotel Association, along with government officials, met at Rancho Leonero Hotel with Mario Leal, of La Ribera, and a few others who represented the gillnetters. Also in attendance were many of local residents who were concerned with the constant netting of juvenile fish. This meeting was held in an attempt to put an end to the illegal inshore gillnetting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a compromise was reached with the gillnetters with the understanding that they would limit the amount of netting along the East Cape coast. Initially it appeared that the agreement would be productive and gillnetting was reduced significantly.

Shortly thereafter, Pescadores del Cortez, a commercial fishing company operated by Mario Leal, began increasing the number of pangas in their fleet, claiming to possess permits which allowed them to net along the shore. Ironically, in addition to gillnetting and selling the fish commercially, they were netting and selling live bait to the local sportfishing fleet.

In April of this year, in the midst of one of the best yellowtail bites in recent memory, (producing some quality fish up to fifty pounds), Mario Leal and his gillnetting gang outraged the locals by wrapping the entire school of yt’s, along with many miscellaneous species, in plain view of Rancho Leonero and the sport fishermen.

As a result of gillnetter’s action, the East Cape Hotel Association embarked on an aggressive campaign to eliminate the inshore gillnetting activity. Local papers joined in the campaign, and armed with photographs and signed statements provided by visitors and locals alike, they have published an ongoing series of stories of indignation at the recent increase in indiscriminate gillnetting activity.

On Wednesday, June 18, 2008, the Jen Wren, a 31’ Innovator owned by Mark Rayor of Vista Sea Sports and captained by Jesus Cota TrasviƱa, was enjoying a wide open inshore bite near Punta Colorada among a fleet of a dozen or so cruisers and pangas, when one of Pescadores del Cortez pangas from La Ribera proceeded to set a gillnet in the middle of the fleet. As the crew stood on the bridge of the Jen Wren, shooting photographs of the gillnetters pulling their nets, the netters began hollering obscenities and threats and waving their arms.

Subsequently the Port Captain met with Sr. Mario Leal this week. Sr. Leal has refused to accept responsibility for his son’s behavior and indicated that he will hire an attorney to contest the allegations.

So what can you do? The next time you travel to East Cape, you can refuse to buy bait from any panga that has “Pescadores del Cortez” emblazoned on the side.

Like so many places in the world, sport and commercial fishing must find a workable solution that will benefit everyone involved. Perhaps the East Cape Hotel Association can be the catalyst to achieve this goal.